Roshell and Karen Dean are among the first to arrive at Our Lady’s Pantry before 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings. He works outdoors with other guys setting out boxes of fresh produce and other foods from coolers and various storage areas.
She goes inside, where the non-perishables are stored, to organize that area and make room for the breads and desserts due to arrive shortly.
Anita Bullaro arrives minutes later, lugging a suitcase filled with her computer and a bunch of registration books. Hubby Tom, who serves as director of the Pantry, is still home, placing the next big order for food from Feeding Tampa Bay. He arrives at the Pantry a bit later.
As Anita sets up her computer in the back room and prepares to welcome clients, Helen Destephano and Paddy Cooney arrive, followed by Barbara and Gratton Murphy, and Patti and Norman White.
Couples work at Our Lady’s Pantry for a variety of reasons and have been doing so from the beginning, 20 years ago. For Patti and Norman White, braving the early morning hours is simply to help our neighbors in need. Helping to alleviate hunger among the poor just comes naturally to these folks.
Anita and Tom Bullaro have been working at the Pantry since 2004, when the couple moved to Florida from Pennsylvania. Tom joined the Knights of Columbus at Prince of Peace Catholic Church early on. And, because the Knights had launched Our Lady's Pantry a few years before, he started working here each week, little dreaming he would be director one day. Anita joined soon afterwards.
The Deans, recent retirees from career Air Force, and newcomers to the Pantry, chose to volunteer here to continue to give back and serve others.
“What better way to serve your community than providing a basic need of life — food. The thought of hunger, especially children is horrible, and unacceptable,” says Karen. “We both are blessed to have never experienced hunger. Volunteering at the Food Bank is our small way of helping families in need.”
The Murphys' awareness of the food insecurity dates back many years to when they conducted a food survey from their home, back in Maine.
“We learned early on how food insecurity is all around us, but we just don't see it,” says Barbara. “It's among the elderly. It's among young families with children. It's among people who are sick or unemployed.”
“We hear about the Corporal Works of Mercy when we are in Church,” says Grattan. “This is just our way of serving the poor.”
Like the Murphys, Paddy Cooney started working at the Pantry about nine years ago, too. A widower, Paddy came alone.
“I had a good life and, being Irish, I know all about hunger, and it’s nice to be able to give back something. We only pass this way once. We should help one another.
“The best thing, though,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, “is that I met a lovely lady here, and we’ve been together for four years.”
DeStephano — (the lovely lady and a widow) — just wants to lessen food insecurity among her neighbors, like her fellow volunteers.
“And I met a charming Irishman,” she says, with a big grin upon her face.
The surprising magic of Our Lady’s Pantry, indeed, is the wonderful friendships that take root and blossom when you least expect it. ❤️